Mario Kart 8 Embraces Its Glorious History

It's all right to recognize greatness, even when a franchise doesn't change much through the years.

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Mario Kart is a franchise that's easy to take for granted. The gang from the Mushroom Kingdom ride around on karts, flinging items and swapping paint while they strive for the checkered flag. Everyone has flung a green shell at a buddy, or skidded into a banana peel just before the finish line, so it's hard to muster much excitement when Mario gears up for another lap. But consistency is not something that should be scoffed at. Reliving the familiar in Mario Kart 8 is just as delightful as every game in the franchise. So whether or not you want Nintendo to overhaul the formula, or, god forbid, let the franchise lay dormant for a few years, you'll be powerless to resist once the starter gun sounds.

Driving on the ground is for squares. Yes, it's a difficult subject to broach considering how ingrained ground driving is in our culture, but it's played out. Do you know how to spice up the mundane? Ignore Newton's pesky gravitational rules, that's how. The laws of physics don't apply to plumbers or princesses or sentient turtles in Mario Kart 8, letting your tires kiss a nearby wall or hug a ceiling if you're so inclined. In theory, such trickery dazzles the eyes without adding anything of tangible value. But push that cynicism aside for a second because, in practice, the diverse shortcuts that materialize when gravity is a mere suggestion make the already fantastical racing even more chaotic.

Venturing into Bowser's fortress showcases the craziness that oozes out of Mario Kart 8's digital code. A slanted hallway forces drivers to choose their side--left or right--giving you a bird's-eye view of a family of boos floating above the dinner table. Turn the corner, and a wall of water, propped up by nothing more than the firm belief that water doesn't have to flow, stands before you. Your kart splashes into the briny depths, transforming into a handy submersible. And even once you're fully submerged, you can still turn walls into ground as you motor on by.

All of these new features are bullet points that Nintendo can put on the back of the box. The heart of Mario Kart lies in its controls. Taking control of a kart just feels right. Drifting around a tight turn activates your power boost, urging you to cut corners as close as possible to keep your speed at the top of the odometer. Steering around an obstacle requires just a small tap on the stick, letting you glide to safety if your reflexes are sharp. Perform a trick off a ramp to gain a quick boost, never losing sight of your goal even while you're lost in this colorful world. Even manning a controller in a crowded convention center is a pleasure.

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Is it silly to be so enthralled by an expected sequel in a franchise that's going to celebrate its 21st birthday later this year? No, no it's not. Mario Kart 8 is pure, simple fun. And it's always fun. Even amid the bountiful wealth of fantastic experiences at E3, it still stands out as something special. Fun is not something that's easily created, so it shouldn't be shunned when it flies onto the screen. Mario Kart 8 is just another Kart, and for that it should be applauded.

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